Teachers disappointed Bill 22 passes

The B.C. legislature today passed Bill 22, the EducationImprovement Act.

The B.C. legislature today passed Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act. The new legislation suspends teachers’ strike action, establishes a “cooling off” period and appoints a mediator to work withthe parties toward a negotiated agreement.

The “cooling off” period will come into effect this Saturday, so that all strike activity must cease when schools resume following spring break.

The next step is the appointment of a mediator to work with the parties toward a negotiated settlement. Education Minister George Abbott will be writing to both the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) tomorrow asking that they submit names to be considered as potential mediators.  The ministry noted it’s looking for potential candidates with a strong background in education, who are held in high regard by the education community, and have “effective dispute resolution and consensus building skills.” The minister willconsider all submissions received from the two parties by March 26.

Once appointed, the mediator will work with both parties on issues of mutual concern. This will include issues raised by the BCTF – such as classroom organization and the local/provincial split of bargaining – as well as issues raised by the BCPSEA, such as professional development and teacher evaluation.

A notice from the province said that the new legislation does not impose a new contract. Rather, it extends the existing contract to cover the mediation period.

If a new agreement cannot be reached by the beginning of summer, the mediator will make non-binding recommendations to government by June 30 the ministry noted.

The education ministry noted how Bill 22 also implements a new Learning Improvement Fund of $165 million over three years to help school districts and teachers address complex classroom composition issues. This fall, $30 million from the     fund will be allocated to classrooms with the greatest need. This will be increased to $60 million the following year, and to $75 million every year after that.

The ministry has suggested districts will be able to use the funds to hire additional teachers and special education assistants, provide additional teaching time and support professional development and training for teachers.

Provincial officials wrote that their Education Improvement Act provides for additional compensation to teachers with classes exceeding the maximum 30 students in grades four to 12.

The education minister spoke about the passing of the controversial bill in the notice released late Thursday.

“Now that Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act has been passed by the legislature and a mediator will soon be appointed, it’s time foreveryone involved to pause and reflect on how we can work together to continue to improve our education system,” George Abbott, Minister of Education said.

The teachers union spoke earlier in the day about what they saw to be an erosion of their rights to collectively bargain and to have a say in class size.

BC Teacher’s Federation president, Susan Lambert said teachers across B.C. are preparing to come together to craft a plan of action to resist what they called the negative impact of the legislation.

Lambert alleges the government is not playing fair by passing Bill 22. Her comments early Thursday noted the Bill 22 makes any strike action an offence subject to heavy fines for members, representatives, and the union itself.

“Teachers know that this government’s so-called Education Improvement Act is going to have the opposite effect in our classrooms throughout the province,” Lambert opined.

Lambert said Bill 22 will have negative impacts in classrooms because it wipes out virtually all current class-size and composition limits found in the School Act, and she said it places no limit on the number of students with special needs in any given class.

In addition, Lambert wrote that Bill 22 eliminates free collective bargaining because it imposes a government-appointed “mediator” who must operate under a narrow mandate focused on employer concession demands.

“Bill 22 hurts students and attacks teachers’ rights. It will only make working and learning conditions worse,” Lambert said.